Taking a Stand Against Sitting Still

Russell Frank
By Russell Frank June 15, 2017 18:49

I come from a long line of sitters. Other people say, “Get up and boogie.” My people say, “Stay home. Rest up.”

To sit is to be at leisure. The occupant of a chair is not being pursued by enemies. Nor is he laboring in a field or on an assembly line. A man in a chair in his own house is a king on a throne in his castle.

This is a historically accurate view of the chair, by the way. “For many centuries,” Wikipedia’s “Chair” entry tells us, “it was a symbolic article of state and dignity rather than an article for ordinary use.”

Though most of us commoners now sit on chairs, they remain symbols of honor in government, business, education and the arts. The person who runs the committee or the board of directors is the chair. Distinguished professors are awarded chairs. First chairs are coveted positions in symphony orchestras.

Note, too, that hospitality begins with the offer of a chair, whether it’s the formal, “Won’t you sit down?” or the informal, “Take a load off.”

The invitation to sit means you’re welcome to stay a while. Food and drink usually follow.

Little wonder that when I’m invited on a walk, I must strain against the powerful cultural and historical forces that glue me to my seat. I’m always glad when I do, though. Even on the nastiest days – and we have some nasty ones where I live – I feel better after a walk than I did before it.

Hikes, defined as longer walks in prettier places, are even more pleasurable, and the older I get the more pleasurable they become. That’s because I no longer take pain-free mobility for granted. Nothing puts a spring in your step like noticing, as you toddle along, that nothing hurts.

Backpacking in the High Sierra has never been less than exhilarating, but when I do it now, at trail’s end I feel positively triumphant.

“Yes!” I roar. “I can still do this!”

(Or at least I could two years ago. Time to see if it’s still true.)

It’s not news that walking is good for us. Lately, though, the experts have been telling us that sitting is positively bad for us – and that we do entirely too much of it. We sit at our desks at work, we sit in our cars or in buses and trains going to and from work, and we sit on our sofas and easy chairs when we get home from work.

One website, spineuniverse.com, cites a study that found 70 percent of us sit for six hours a day.

Even if you get regular exercise, the experts say, you’re still doing yourself no favors if you spend too much time on your duff. Not good for your back, your neck, your spine. And of course, those who sit too much are more prone to the big killers: heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Chairs, you might say, are the new cigarettes. Consider these headlines:

  • “Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?”
  • “Sitting Is Deadlier Than Smoking, Researchers Say”
  • “Study: The Longer You Sit, the Shorter Your Life”

And so on. In response to this threat, some computer jockeys have become so hyper aware of their posture that they sit the way a soldier at attention stands.

Some take it a step further, setting alarms on their computers to remind them to get up and walk around every once in a while – as often as every 20 minutes.

And some take it a step further than that and work standing up. A company calling itself the Stand Up Desk Store (slogan: “We stand behind our desks”) sells an electric adjustable standing desk for $519.

“Sitting Disease,” the company warns, “kills 300,000-plus people a year in the U.S. alone.”

Well, it ain’t gonna kill me. I have a laptop desk, which is a low-end version of a standing desk. I take frequent strolls about the hallowed halls of the academic building where I work. When I do sit at my desk, my posture is positively ramrod.

And at least three times a week, I stretch. I don’t mean that I arch my back and thrust my arms over my head when I get out of bed, though I do that too. I’m talking about a full-blown stretching routine, where I lie on a mat and perform a series of maneuvers known in the physical therapy and fitness-coaching worlds as bridges, planks, crunches and lifts.

I’m convinced that these exercises are part of the reason why, when I walk, nothing hurts. The other part is circular: I walk because nothing hurts and nothing hurts because I walk.

I do all these things – sit up straight, stretch, work standing up sometimes and stand frequently when I work sitting down – not because I’m one of those obnoxiously disciplined people whom slothful people love to hate. Far from it. Like I said at the beginning, I’m a sitter by temperament and genetic and cultural inheritance.

No, what gets me out of my slouch and out of my chair is sheer terror – the terror of back trouble that only someone who has experienced back trouble can appreciate. Suffice it to say that at the height of my worst bout, I slept standing up because I was in too much pain to lie down.

That is why, if you tell me to take a hike, I won’t be offended. But if you invite me to sit down I might say, “What are you trying to do, kill me?”

Former Sonora resident Russell Frank teaches journalism at Penn State.

Copyright © 2017 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Russell Frank
By Russell Frank June 15, 2017 18:49
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